This week we visited an organization that was interested in social leadership and our take on what Julian calls the Social Age. It was a great opportunity for us to practice representing Sea Salt, in a Sea Salty way, showing and talking about Social Age ideas and explaining what we can do with them.
It was also a good opportunity for us to ‘do something’ with what we call the Sea Salt layers. It’s an idea that Julian has about our structure as an organization that we have taken and run with. A one page discussion paper has turned into a small book about what I call in general terms Sea Salt recognition. How do we recognize people who are engaged with us? How do we express the way we work together, with a view to building in ritual?
This week’s prototyping was about the wristbands from the Safari. Or rather what they represent. We thought about this together as a team during our coworking last week. The outcome is an agreed way of thinking about the many people who ‘want in’ so to speak, in one form or another.
As an organization that has tasked itself with representing, being on the edge of, the future of work, we think about culture, structure (or lack thereof) and our values intentionally. These layers are one representation of that. Beginnings of thinking about who is around us, who is ‘us’? They will evolve over time.
One of the questions that came up about this during coworking is, who are we to ‘reward’ engagement, to dole out recognition like pats on the head? Our challenge, in my opinion, is to recognize intentionally. I’m interested in giving people a way of showing the world, saying ‘Look at me, this is what I’m interested in at the moment, what I am engaged with.’ I’m not imagining I am bestowing any kind of honour. My intention is to recognize thoughts, ideas, and work in a similar vein. Perhaps it is ego-centric. Only trying it out will tell me how people will react though. And putting these ideas up here! Working out loud, inviting feedback and reactions.
Explorers are people we think of as having been introduced to the ideas around the Social Age and are beginning to ask questions about what this all means to them personally and to their organization. My intention is to gift wristbands during workshops or sessions we are invited to give, a physical representation of a widespread, global community of people.
Seafarers are Explorers or community members who are getting creative and building on Julian’s ideas around Social Age themes or learning methodology and run with them, building on them, applying them and challenging them or adapting them.
Adventurers are Explorers who are interested in working together, wanting to engage with Sea Salt because they see potential applications of these ideas in a specific context and see an opportunity to build something together.
——– (I don’t have a good name yet, help think of one!) are individuals who are contracted, who work or have worked with us on projects in specific roles.
Crewmates are people who are working on the day to day operations, highly engaged and committed to Sea Salt as an organization.
The intention is to have a consistent ritual around each of these, letting people know they are seen and appreciated. Is that condescending? Maybe. Experimentation will tell.
I’ve worked remotely now for most of my career, and as a nomad for the past two years. I’m currently working with a UK based start up, 18 months old. Though I’ve been working with this start up for 12 months now, I’ve been part of the ‘core team’ for 6. That’s also when I started my travels to Australia, Indonesia and China.
Before I started traveling, I had been working remotely from one location for five months and on a specific project. My team was completely virtual, in that time we had an in person kickoff meeting once, when the project started.
Now, six months later, staying with a crewmate (that’s what we call each other) in the UK, trust and resilience have been on my mind. In April my presence was requested in the UK. I could understand that. While I was in theory ‘building the business’ in addition to my project work, in reality, I was on the other side of the world trying to have meetings and build client relationships with no experience and no support. Not surprisingly, the business building became less of a priority for me. When asked what kind of support I needed, I wasn’t sure how to respond, this being my first foray into the start-up world. What could I ask for? How could I be sure it would be provided? What is reasonable? I think now that the support I wanted and didn’t know how to ask for, articulate, was what I had in my project work: a cohesive team.
Feedback from crewmates about that time is that I faded in and out of focus. In and out of view. What I had expected was the same kind of structure, same kind of coworking that my project work supplied, so I didn’t have to be constantly in touch and online, so I could have a flexible schedule. From my perspective, I was on the hunt for wifi every day. I was constantly challenged not to work, as everyone around me was on holiday. My most productive times were when I shared living space with other people who were working.
Since I came to the UK, we, as a team, have had a few milestones that seem to have paved the way to a more effective virtual team. This is certainly my own objective since I don’t plan to stop my nomad experiments. It is the way of the future. However, we have to figure out how, as teams and as individuals. There is a learning curve, for everyone, in order to make this work. Part of this is to learn how to communicate, tell stories about our own lived experiences in order to be better teams.
We’ve just spent a few days co-working in London, the first edition of Sea Salt co-working and it’s prompted me to reflect on what co-working means to me.
How have I experienced co-working? How do I define it? I work with more and more people who have spent their work lives in various types of offices, people who are used to being time bound, to working with schedules. My work history, for the most part, has been outside of offices. After having the experience of office work, I spent the rest of my career actively avoiding them, eschewing schedules for a more natural work rhythm, like sleeping or eating, it is a part of my day without being imposed on me. I work when I wake up. Sometimes work wakes me up, or I might work all night. Alone or with others, on or offline.
I’ve remote worked more than I have worked in offices. Long before my ‘official’ nomad status, I worked in a nomadic fashion, roaming from coffee shop to library, walking all over the city, first Vancouver, then Nelson, then other cities, searching for the perfect combination of comfort, productivity and price.
Co-working has been part of the way I work over the course of my career. I term it co-working now, but in the moment it was just how we could get things done. My mom and I worked together in our own consultancy. She was good at gathering people together to work. She would often suggest we get together and work on a certain part of a project or proposal. Working together in person and online became the solution if something needed to get done. We would spend the day or the morning together, either at a table or on either sides of an open Skype line, and work in each other’s presence, asking a question here, getting feedback there. It was a good way to get something started as well, or if either of us needed inspiration or felt ‘stuck’ with something. We would strategize, put our heads together, both on one computer or each on our laptops and do the thing that needed to be done. At the end of such a morning or a day, I had a feeling of accomplishment, and relief! It particularly helped me when I didn’t feel inspired or wasn’t sure how to approach a problem. Working synchronously, either on person or online, gave us the opportunity to connect at a time when I was, for the most part, working on asynchronous project work.
When I met Julian (@SeaSaltLearning) it was easy to co-work. There was no discussion about how we would do it, we didn’t have a meeting about it. We just did it, perhaps because we had a similar understanding of what ‘it’ was. Whenever we get a chance to attend a conference or training session together, there is co-working time. We got a chance to go to Amsterdam for a weekend and co-work there. To me, it is an aspect of remote working, a variant. A natural variation on the same theme.
When you search ‘how to co-work’, a lot of co-working spaces come up. I don’t see much about what to do when you get there. Each will have a different way of operating, hosting workshops and networking events, putting people together, either to meet or work independently. What about teams who co-work together?
It never occurred to me that I would need, or want to, explain it, being such an intrinsic part of the way I work. It is like explaining how to eat. However, like eating, it is done differently in different cultures, as I recently found in China. Sometimes you do need to explain the things that seem not to need explanation. Examine and reflect on the things that just ‘are’ in order to make them visible, possible to be worked on together. Evolve.
When is co-working not co-working? When it’s a meeting.
There are many articles on tips for running a successful meeting. The key word being ‘running’. A good meeting is about structure, setting an agenda, making sure everyone contributes. The thing about meetings is that, while they are meant to be productive, they are more often an opportunity for people to talk about a task, or to be on display, impressing coworkers with Venn diagrams and exhortations to look at the big picture.
That’s what we’re used to, our work lives are dotted with meetings. This isn’t to say all meetings are useless. They have their place in my work arsenal. Co-working is another, a different animal.
When co-working is led, when it is scheduled, there are barriers placed around it. One thing I learned early on in my career: I can’t ‘turn on’ my creativity or productivity. The way I work became an exploration of the conditions that would be most conducive to it. That is why I left the ‘office life’: I was expected to be productive at certain times, around other people’s schedules. I couldn’t see the point in it, why stay in an office all day when I’m most productive early in the morning and I’m next to useless in the afternoons? When there is a schedule around co-working, when there are constraints, it becomes difficult. It is about working in other people’s presence but it isn’t a meeting. It has a productive focus. Meetings take on a secondary place and that way become part of an organic process. Talking about work happens more informally, during ‘down time’, like over lunch or on a walk.
In co-working, there are shifting configurations. While my experience is limited to coworking in smaller groups, the principle could remain. Two people working over here, working on a specific task together. A few over there. Other people working independently. One might suggest changing location. A few might decide to go work in a cafe, or a pub. It is okay to move around, in fact it is encouraged: a change of environment is conducive to refreshing perspective, fosters productivity. I can feel when a location is ‘going stale’, usually after a few hours. I start to feel it creep into my bones, my brain slows down. It is time to move.
In a group that is co-working you might hear:
‘I need another 30 minutes and then do you want to work on this task?’
‘Would you like to take an hour to work this out?’
‘I want to move soon, maybe grab a coffee, anyone want to come?’
‘Who knows about this thing I’m working on?’
People self-organize, and don’t require organizing.
People are responsible for their tasks, and don’t need to be told what to do.
There is no permission to ask for or give.
The day will constantly shift and change. There are no time limits, no designated work areas, no schedule. It requires individuals to be responsible for themselves, to listen to their bodies, to be proactive and communicative, collaborative.
Sitting in the perpetual daylight of the Doha airport, experiencing a time warp in this space between timezones, this seems to me the perfect time to reflect on my nomad existence.
During my latest trip to the UK, I participated in my first co-living experiment in Chichester. Now that I think about it, while I was convalescing last year in Belgium, I was working and living with two working people as well… technically this is #2, however, the first intentional one… even if it came about spontaneously.
It sounds a bit grander than it was: what happened was a colleague invited me to stay with her for a week and since it was going well, turned into two. We had previously never met in person, only over the Internet, and only twice in one on one meetings. When we actually met though, it was very natural, didn’t miss a beat. It was about two days in that I fist thought, hey, we’re co-living!
Her partner had to leave on a work trip the day after I arrived, so her house became the workhouse. This experiment was held at a particularly busy time, we were organizing the first Safari, so client work needed to be done before that. Post Safari, during the second week, between meetings and client work, I was working 10 hour days.
During the first week, the ‘getting to know you’ phase, we talked about work all the time. And we co-worked, and went to the Safari, which was intense in and of itself. We would walk the dog and talk about work. Wake up in the morning and talk about work. I thought it was great! Finally, someone to talk about work with!
The second week was different. With that one common project over, the real co-living began. We co-worked, but didn’t talk about work as much. Talk shifted to goals and aspirations, how I figured out what I wanted for example. On one notable occasion, we walked and talked, with coaching undertones. Fodder for another post. Then I think the question became, can we not talk about deeply reflective things?
The second week I was going full blast and she was engaged with changing the way she worked. We both do-worked with other colleagues, and found our own way home. We developed a good rhythm.
The real revelation for me came when I left, on a work trip to Malaysia. I found myself at loose ends, having to work harder to maintain focus, do what I needed to do. So I learned something about myself, as a result of the past few weeks in the UK, I get energy and drive from working with others. And not just any others. As part of startup, being close to others who understand what you are doing plays a part.
I can understand why co-living. When you work alone, when the way you know your colleagues best is as disembodied voices, co-living can provide energy. I found myself getting up at 6am, unable to continue sleeping, itching to get this or that thing done. Chatting over breakfast about what I had done and would do that day, curious about her plans. Co-living but autonomously. Not working on the same things, but speaking the same language. Perhaps that is what made it energetic for me, the ability to articulate what was happening in my head, having a sounding board, helped me think things through.
One of the reflections shared by both of us is that it was hard to stop talking about work. One could say that yes, that was because a clear demarcation of the different spaces you work in, or are social in is necessary.
In this example, I don’t agree. First, because we were able to have conversations that we would never have had if we were not co-living. Second, I believe that it is possible to erase the boundary between work and life. I’m not trying to balance them because I don’t believe they are two sides of me. I have chosen what I do because it is an extension of who I am and what I believe.
I think it was fine that we talked about work a lot. We talked about it as much as we needed to, and stopped when the need faded. It was part of a natural evolution. When there was no longer a need to talk about work, we did other things. Finding to be validated in the next experiments!
Experiment 1 is a success. Co-living increased my drive and focus. Having it time bound is a good idea. So far, it’s a way to bring nomads in from their peripatetic state, especially if it coincides with a particularly intense work period.
Next time, I would add more exercise (that’s where I get creatively inspired). Yes, there will be a next time! It’s already planned, in my head…
Something has been on my mind lately, informed by several conversations, my own feelings and a recent discussion during a client meeting. It’s pretty late, and I’m mostly posting this because of the challenge I have given myself to write 5 posts in 5 days. Pardon my half formed thoughts…
Let’s take it as an experiment in writing something that is a pure if unstructured expression of my feelings.
It’s about appreciation. How do we, do we show appreciation? What does it mean when we do?
A discussion I heard this week was about the right kind of appreciation. What people seemed to agree on was that people should not be dependent on praise, but rather should find confidence and validation from their own self worth. I can agree with that. Expressing a compliment should be centric to the person being complimented or appreciated’s ego. They shouldn’t need to feel appreciated in order to operate.
However, thinking this way may lead us to missing the point that while yes, people should not need praise or compliments to operate, the reality is that they want them. I know I do.
Appreciation and recognition of others is part of a practice of gratitude. In a work context, recognizing and being grateful to the people around you, especially those who contribute to your work, who make your work easier or perhaps challenge you. If everyone were able to take a second, recognize and show appreciation to others for specific things, it might help us avoid feeling like we are churning along with no discernible effect or impact.
Yes, leverage other people’s ideas, build on each other’s experience and outlook. And appreciate that these things have a source, they come from a place of openness and generosity, desire to make a positive impact, working together. Doing so might create an positive spiral, where people upvote the helpful behaviours and ideas, and disregard the rest.
One of the activities we took part in last week during the #socialagesafari was to give out appreciation stamps. This helped us to be mindful of our influences and gave me an opportunity to show my appreciation to people I work with, in a conscious way, because I appreciated their effort and capability, independent of a need to be appreciated.
Being mindful at work for me is about thinking beyond my individual needs and taking advantage of the channels available to me to be sincere in my thanks when I recognize a moment to do this. I may not always do it well, or at all, but I hope that as a result, people enjoy and want to continue working with me.
I’ve thinking about and talking about starting an appreciation channel as Sea Salt, a mechanism by which we can thank each other specifically for an idea or input that helped in doing something else. For example, I would thank Paul for his client management skills that helped relieve pressure on me so I could deliver work that I am satisfied with. I don’t want to broadcast it widely or willynilly, without consideration, otherwise it won’t mean anything after a few times.
This comes from having worked with managers who don’t or are not able to show appreciation. In my opinion, it is more that a non specific thank you. It is about recognizing the specific actions or ideas of others that allowed you to go further. That kind of culture is its own reward. It is also about knitting together a tight team who can trust and rely on each other because each person has a proven track record validated by other team members. We build each other’s reputation.
The story of the Storybox starts in Amsterdam, in November. During one of many cycle trips, my colleague Julian and I happened across a ‘public library’.
He had told me about them before, these outdoor bookshelves where people can place the books they have finished with and find a new one. The one I saw was a bit soggy on the whole, the small roof not being equal to the Dutch reality, but I liked the idea, and was reminded of it during my Australian trip.
On a visit to the Melbourne markets, I saw another type of ‘public library’, this one more elaborate, conceived to travel, and more substantial.
I shared it in our workplace ‘pub’, a WhatsApp group for sharing random musings and got a great response. So the story begins, with the classic setup: “Wouldn’t it be great if… ?”
Wouldn’t it be great if we built our own ambulatory story box, to collect and share stories of social learning, of Sea Salt and to travel with them to different parts of the world?
Wouldn’t it be great if we set one up randomly in downtown London, open for collecting and sharing back stories?
At that point I had planned to come to the UK to support work on the Safari, so in my mind’s eye I had a vision of a team working to build this box together. As the idea for the Safari evolved, the box idea took a back seat to the effort of organizing. However, I still wanted to build it, modelled on a similar concept I had come across during a festival. In that installation, set up as a cafe, with small tables and a telephone on each. Choosing a code from a menu, it was possible to dial the phone and hear a story from someone who had attended an iteration of this festival in another country. By entering another code, it was possible to share my own story of experience, if I wished, or any other story I wished to tell.
The story I heard was beautiful, I could hear the festival sounds in the background and the woman speaking shared what she was experiencing, giving me a snapshot of what it must be like to be there. I felt connected to her and her experience and it gave me courage and desire to share my own.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could build a similar type of experience for the Safari?
After the fabled Amsterdam summit, where the Safari was worked out and the running order shared, I saw my name had been put against something called the Storybox. Knowing that Julian had a clear vision for what would happen during the Safari and expecting that I would be told what this was and what I had to do about it, I didn’t give it much further thought. I didn’t remember that that is what the Australian book sharing box was called!
During our organizing meeting, which I attended from Beijing, I asked what the Storybox was. “Remember that idea back in February, about the box, the story sharing?”
“Really? That’s what it is? That’s what you want me to do?”
My first step was to give it a week, because I had so much on with three other projects.
I then asked two people how they thought I could build it. My brother, a programmer, said I should build an app. This made sense, it would solve a lot of logistical problems, but I couldn’t forget the romance of picking up a phone in the desert and hearing someone from a distant time and place on the other end of the line, connected by an idea.
The other person I contacted was a friend I made at that very same festival, who I knew liked to build things. For the first week, we had a good dialogue going about the build, what was needed and how it could be done. I even proposed going to Belgium to ‘hack it out’. However, the momentum was lost and I had to look into other ways of creating the Storybox as time was getting shorter (only one week left to go until the Safari!) and the Storybox was happening. There was no question of it not happening. I just had to find another way to fulfill my objectives.
I broadcast a request for programmers and app developers on Twitter and received an immediate response. I responded with an overview and some sketches of what I wanted and the screens I thought would do it the most efficiently.
Some responded, some not. One said it could be done in my time frame, so I went for it. From conception to having a prototype? 3 days.
My goal is to inspire people to play with the prototype, use it, possibly discover it’s potential. I fully expect that version 2.0 will have changes, I already have ideas for it and I’m hoping the Safari will garner ideas about it that will lead to further refinement and iterations!
If you’re curious about the Storybox’s current state, and the continuing evolution of this project, stay tuned. It’s my little experiment in agility and community building, co-creation. I’m curious about what will happen.
Let the feedback begin!